The Social Context of Trust
Trust and Organizational Structure

Trust as Vulnerability

I recently came across a study on Trust and Influence in Combat published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology in 2009 (Vol 1, pp 235-264) . There are a number of interesting points which caught my eye so I will use my next few posts to delve into them.

For this study the authors, Patrick Sweeney, Vaida Thompson, and Hart Blanton, use a definition of trust in an organizational setting which was proposed by Morton Deutsch in 1958 - one’s willingness to be vulnerable to another group member’s actions.

Trust as vulnerability struck me as being a very practical definition since we often see signs of mistrust on teams such as withholding information or lack of engagement in fulfilling the goals of the team. It seems to me that these team members would be more open and engaged if they were comfortable with being vulnerable with either the team leader or other team members or both. Sweeney, et al, suggest that in such a case the team member may not be confident that the team leader or other team member will behave cooperatively and that they feel no real measure of interdependence within the team. They reference work by Kelley and Thibaut which stresses the need for “developing trust through a reciprocating cycle in which each partner in a relationship acts to reduce the other’s fear of exploitation and to show that the relationship will be rewarding.”

Our firm is presently participating in a beta test of an instrument which will operationalize the concepts in Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Trust is the foundational behavior in his model and his attention to vulnerability seems to mirror Deutsch’s definition.

Lencioni addresses vulnerability as a willingness to be open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses. Obviously, if you do this you are opening yourself up to a series of actions by others on the team. Their responses to you will most likely be a part of the “reciprocating cycle” which either develops or destroys trust. If they are accepting and supportive you will probably risk more in the future and increase your vulnerability. If they are not, you will probably be less open in the future.

Once again I am seeing a key element of the DISC model I am researching - ACCEPTANCE. Personally I will be much more likely to be OPEN with my feelings as well as my mistakes and weaknesses if I know others will accept me with all of these limitations. I will also tend to be more STAIGHTFORWARD with others if I know they are willing to vulnerable as well.


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